Duke University Health System says it cannot support a planned Durham-Orange light-rail route that runs outside their hospitals on Erwin Road.
In a letter sent to GoTriangle last week, system officials reiterated longstanding concerns about safety and access.
“While we welcome continued dialogue regarding the development of an efficient and cost effective public transportation system, we cannot support the proposed Durham Orange Light Rail as it is currently proposed,” Chancellor for Health Affairs Eugene Washington and Executive Vice President William Fulkerson wrote.
GoTriangle responded Monday afternoon with suggestions for making the corridor serving the medical center safer for patients and emergency vehicles.
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The letter comes as the regional transit agency is asking local government, university and other partners to commit to moving ahead with a required application to the Federal Transit Administration.
GoTriangle will update Durham County commissioners and City Council members Tuesday on what’s needed to address a $254 million funding gap in the $1.87 billion project. The Joint City-County Committee meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Commissioners Chambers, 200 E. Main St.
Elected officials from Durham and Orange counties are being asked to provide non-binding letters of intent to work with GoTriangle and others to identify additional money for the 17-mile light-rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill.
The letters would be included in a December Federal Transit Administration application to move the project to the engineering phase.
“Durham and Orange Counties are being asked to provide letters of intent signaling to FTA that both counties still want to build their light-rail project, that the counties understand that their local share will be greater than originally anticipated because of the new (state) light rail funding cap, and that both counties are committed to helping identify the resources to fill the remaining funding gap for the project to be eligible for 50 percent investment from the federal government,” GoTriangle stated in information sent to the City Council.
The proposal asks Orange County to help identify up to $40 million and Durham County up to $135 million over 10 years for the project.
The health system’s concerns about the proposed route have been known for several years, they said, but not been addressed “despite countless meetings.”
GoTriangle hasn’t moved on proposed alternatives to Erwin Road since 2010, including a shift to the N.C. 147 corridor, said Monte Brown, the health system’s vice president of administration.
Another concern is the risk that construction could pose to the hospital’s major electrical transmission lines under Erwin Road, he said.
“As you can imagine, that is our most congested area with access to the ED (emergency department), and we’ve offered to work with them to have it go right through the middle of campus, prior to the ED and the hospital, and they never responded (with) any analysis looking at those other locations that we know of,” he said.
Jeff Mann, general manager for GoTriangle, in his letter sent Monday, noted several design changes since 2010 that address health system access and safety concerns, including relocating stations, embedding the light-rail track and making it accessible in case emergency vehicles had to drive down the track, and coordinating with university staff about the utilities.
GoTriangle also can review the Erwin Road corridor early next year, he wrote, incorporating experiences with similar situations around the country, and study additional revisions to the track design. In addition, an enhanced traffic signal at Emergency Drive could signal the light-rail train to stop when emergency vehicles are approaching, Mann said.